Review of "The Jam Collection" Album

by Gavin Martin

©New Musical Express - July 1996

... Anthologised already, The Jam's greatest hit singles are wholly absent from this collection of B-sides and notable album tracks. Weller's career has been a series of volte-faces, borne of the very surly stubbornness adopted in his previous incarnation. He told us to vote Tory then joined Red Wedge, decried the electric guitar then went plank-spanking down the road of soloing excess, spat in the face of hairy hippiedom then knelt at the altar of Neil Young.

Sure, change is good, change is right, change is necessary. But artistic continuity is no bad thing either and Weller's current refusal to broach, let alone contextualise, his past means even an authorised back catalogue raid like this has the sound of skeletons rattling in the cupboard.

It starts well with The Jam's debut album standout, 'Away From The Numbers' - a hymn to anomie, embracing the Townshend role of a modernist youth disaffected even from the peers. At a few seconds over four minutes '...Numbers' is what passed for an epic in The Jam's canon; frustratingly it would be years before Weller would build and expand on the dynamic, bulldozing power chords that drove the song.

Elsewhere '...Collection' is akin to leafing through someone's old photo album or scrapbook. Petulant teenage traumas turned to ineffectual broadsides, the crippling three-piece chemistry (one loudmouth driving two dullish henchmen) and Weller's valiant struggle to adapt his voice - posturing, prolish, estuary English - into a vibrant and soulful entity cloud the songwriting craft. The prescriptive social analysis of 'Private Hell', 'Mister Clean', 'The Man In The Corner Shop' and 'Saturday's Kids' sounds quaint, dated stuff.

Odd gems do stick out. 'English Rose' is a deftly-turned ode to natural beauty, heading into the autumnal realm explored years later on the masterly 'Wildwood'. Towards the close of the chronological '...Collection' a desire to expand and break free from The Jam and the limitations captured so frankly elsewhere become clear. Perhaps it's no surprise that the self-proclaimed changing man's marginal past presents a lot more to pass over hastily than it does to draw inspiration from. (4/10)